Tag Archives: Campus group

Opinion

Student groups, keep strong during summer!

This post originally appeared on the Humanist Community Project at Harvard‘s blog.

Hello all!

Dave Muscato here again with more practical advice for running your humanist group.

Today’s article is intended mostly for student group leaders, but I hope that non-student humanist groups will also find useful advice here.

So your semester is over, and you’ve wrapped up all of your group’s official business for the year. Does that mean your group goes on hiatus until the fall? Most certainly not! Summer is an ideal time for your group members to get to know each other on a more personal level, and to do types of activities that you don’t have time for during the year. The best part is, these activities don’t necessarily require much expense nor planning.

It’s likely that, as a student group, your meeting attendance will contract over the summer. That’s fine; contract with it! Instead of reserving a lecture hall or classroom each week, try meeting in a coffee shop, or playing pool, or going on a group bike ride on a local trail, or seeing a movie together and then chatting about it over dinner afterwards. Have a game night at someone’s apartment. Go to the local zoo. Try that new vegan restaurant. GO TO CONFERENCES TOGETHER. Try some touristy activities in your town or on a field trip to nearby towns. Go to an art show, or the ballet, or a rock concert.

In our group, SASHA, one of our members & former officers, Jeremy Locke, has been doing an amazing job of this: If you, as a group leader, are planning to spend the afternoon at a coffeeshop reading, don’t do it alone! Make an event invitation via your Facebook group or web calendar, and invite group members to join you for conversation. Even if only 2 or 3 members show up, it helps keep your group on your members’ minds. Name these events something official-sounding, like “[Group Name] Summer Event #1: Coffee at Java Joe’s” so that your members know a series of these are forthcoming. And keep it up!

The key to summer success is consistency. Make sure you have lots of events going on throughout the week, every week. These need not be noteworthy affairs; in fact it can be preferable if they’re not. It’s more important to keep your group going by having something going every single week. In 3.5-year history of our group, we have yet to miss a weekly gathering, even if it was just a handful of us playing pool, or going out to a local bar, and this has worked very well for us. Of course, if you have 20 people RSVP to your Facebook event for hanging out at a coffee shop, it makes more sense to start planning larger get-togethers, but summer is a great time to play things by ear, feel out your group’s preferences for activities later in the semester, and really build genuine friendships with people you may not have had much opportunity to bond with during the semester.

Your group is a great resource for friendships, not just between officers and members, but between members, too. I have seen relationships spring from like-minded people meeting among our members, and it makes my heart happy. Make use of this opportunity. The people you meet with and bond with during your college years are going to be in your memory–if not your active correspondence–for a lifetime. Make sure your group has as many opportunities to socialize during this downtime as possible.

In my next article, I will talk about what you can be doing to help prepare for your fall semester during the summer months. Until next time!

– Dave Muscato

The contents and opinions of this article are my own and do not necessarily represent the position of the Secular Student Alliance.

Opinion

News release basics: distributing a press release

So now that you’ve learned how to write a press release, you need to know how to properly distribute it so your release gets noticed by media outlets. This is easier said than done. While a well written press release will undoubtedly garner more attention than a poorly written one, there are also a few things that you can keep in mind to help yourself out.

1) Think about when you send your release. Too early in the morning (5 am) and it’s likely to be so far down in people’s inboxes that they’ll never get to it. Send it too late in the day (noon) and it gets lost in the shuffle. While this isn’t an exact science, I personally get the best response from releases sent out in the 7-9 am time frame.

2) Regardless of when you send your release, follow up. I mentioned this in my last post, but it bears repeating. Give your contact a call around mid-day to make sure they don’t have any lingering questions, or need further information. Don’t be pushy, be helpful.

3) Establish a personal media list, not a generic one. This takes time, but is incredibly beneficial. Instead of just compiling a list of media contacts based on what info is on their website, reach out and network. As you meet journalists and make personal contacts, add them to their list. Send a few emails to a media group and determine who is really interested in helping your group get the word out. Then add them to your list instead of a generic email. While building a contact list is hard work, it’s also one of the most prized possessions of a PR professional, or anyone looking to get media attention.

4) Make sure you allow enough time. Don’t send your press release out weeks before an event, but don’t send it out days before, either. Make sure you give a journalist enough time to pick up the story, and contact you if needed.

Basically, getting your press release out there is a matter of using common sense and thinking realistically. Journalism is fast paced, so make sure your release has an edge, is current, and includes quotes and pictures.

As always, if you have questions, comments or suggestions, I’d love to hear them! Email me at jessicaswider35@gmail.com.

 

Opinion

News release basics: how to get your event noticed

Unless you have a member of your group who’s well versed in public relations practices, most campus organizations are fairly clueless when it comes to publicizing an event. Building a media list, properly distributing a news release and handling press are all skills that have to be learned. However, before any of those things happen, you have to know HOW to write a press release. Perhaps the most basic, yet one of the most important skills, a PR practitioner needs is the ability to write an efficient news release. While everyone has their own method for writing a release, there are a few basics that can be helpful when you’re just starting out.

-Include contact info, the words ‘FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE’ and what organization you’re from. This info should all appear at the top of the release. It’s important to not forget these basics so journalists know what they’re dealing with.

-Headline, subhead, boiler plate, date line. Not sure what these terms mean? Google them. You’ll need to include each in your news release, and put them in the proper place. The headline comes first, then subhead. The dateline comes immediately before the text begins and the boiler plate appears at the bottom of the news release, as they very last section.

-Lead, text, recap. Your lead needs to be catchy and unique. Journalists get hundreds of news releases each day, so make sure yours stands out! The text includes all the details, and further information about your event. The recap comes last, and is fairly self explanatory.

-Timing is, as always, everything. Don’t put out your release late in the day, right before a weekend, or right before you go out of town. Keep in mind when you release is most likely to get seen in a journalist’s inbox.

-Follow up! Just because you sent your press release over email doesn’t mean that’s the only contact medium you can use. Call people! Later in the day, after you’ve sent your release, give your contact a call to see if they have any further questions, or needs interview information. Don’t be pushy, be helpful.

-EDIT, EDIT, EDIT. Make sure you double and triple check your release, and have someone else look it over before you send it out. If you have even one error, it not only reduces your credibility but can leave journalists with potentially incorrect information. Edit until you’re blue in the face!

News releases take practice, but being able to write a good one is an invaluable skill that you’ll need if you want anyone to know about, or attend, your event or speaker.

Opinion

The Path to Non-Belief

The freethought community is full of extremely diverse opinions on a wide range of subjects. Some members of my local student group are socialists, feminists, anarchists, libertarians, and yes, even a few conservatives. Collectively, this diversity is one of our major strengths.

Having such widely varied opinions, we tend to find common ground most readily in our skepticism of religious claims.  In fact, my student group emphasizes that while the Kent State Freethinkers is not expressly an “atheist group,” it is a group that contains many atheists, agnostics, religious skeptics and secularists. Simply put, we don’t exempt religious claims from our bologna detection kit.

But being in a group of skeptics, it is easy to forget that many of us come to our non-belief from very different backgrounds. Some of us have never been religious, while some of us consciously decided to leave religion. While non-theists of all stripes are of course welcome at meetings, it is important to remember that we all took very different paths to get there…and sometimes picked up very different types of emotional and philosophical baggage along the way.

For example, many atheists who have never been religious tend to view religious ideas with the same sense of anthropological bewilderment usually applied to the exotic customs of foreign tribes. It is sometimes difficult for them to comprehend how otherwise intelligent adults can so fervently believe such blatant hogwash. These never-believers tend to have trouble debating religious people because some religious concepts are so cloaked in a veil of transcendental mumbo-jumbo that it requires real effort to even begin talking. Starting conversations with the devout sometimes requires a suspension of critical faculties that these non-believers have never experienced. Their thought process might look something like, “Okay, so Jesus died for our sins, but then rose from the dead? So basically, he is alive. How exactly is this a sacrifice again?”

Conversely, non-theists who have made the difficult decision to leave the comfort and familiarity of their religion are usually better able to put themselves in the shoes of believers. People leave religion for many different reasons, but I’ve found that the circumstances of their departure can have a huge impact on how they continue to view religion, especially their former faith.

Many people leave religion after a nasty falling out, such as institutionalized abuse or conflict with religious leaders. I know of at least one student who left the Catholic Church after her grandfather was denied last rites (the last blessings before death), because he neglected to include the church in his will. Other, more serious examples abound, such as instances of rape, corruption, and violence. While most religious members are not direct victims, many leave after seeing such deplorable behavior from a group they had thought was a paragon of morality. Being so burned by faith often ignites a deep seated hatred of all things religious, and while this allows them to be extremely passionate proponents of freethought and secularist ideals, these anti-theists often become extremely emotionally entangled in arguments.  They may be prone to making hyperbolic statements about the evils of the church, which may end up hurting their credibility. Other anti-theists may still have very raw feelings about religious groups, and may prefer avoiding the discussion altogether.

In contrast, many non-believers left the church simply because religion has faded away into the realm of irrelevance, often times due to apathy or in response to a better understanding of how science explains the natural world. They find the claims and promises of religion to be lacking when examined in the harsh light of day – a light that shines from scientific literacy. They may begin calling themselves an atheist or agnostic after many years of being a non-practicing (or rarely practicing) religious member. In many ways, this type of non-believer is more similar to the never-theist than the anti-theist.

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, and many non-believers have had a very arduous ascent into freethought, and retain very complex emotions and opinions about religious faith. Many people that attend meetings may still be making that climb toward enlightenment. They may still be overcoming obstacles to unbelief that most of us have already cleared, or they may be dealing with obstacles that many of us have never had to clear. Then again, there are some atheists are so anti-religious that they see freethought groups as an underhanded attempt to create a secular church.

My point is, as current and future freethought leaders, it is important to recognize and appreciate the various perspectives, talents, and biases that your members bring to the discussion table. If a diplomat and a firebrand are arguing over the tone of your group’s advertisements, or debating which speaker you want to bring to campus, it is often helpful to recognize that those differences stem not just from the side of the table they are sitting on, but also the path they took to get there.  I’ve found that some of the most helpful and enjoyable meetings have been where we take turns describing where we stand philosophically in relation to religion, and talk about the often convoluted paths that led us there. I highly recommend dedicating some time to this discussion at one of your early meetings this upcoming semester. It will definitely help you understand the perspective of someone that you may disagree with.

General

Want to make your life as a campus group leader a whole lot easier? Read this.

You have a great event idea– you have the funds needed, picked the perfect date and have started writing a press release. Everything is just freaking awesome! Until your university finds out.

Suddenly you have miles beyond miles of red tape to work through. Those assholes! How dare they make your life infinitely more difficult with all their silly rules and regulations?!

We’ve all been there. While we all get that paperwork and the likes are in place for a reason, dealing with university authorities can be a hassle, to say the least. However, it’s important to maintain a good relationship with these people, no matter how stupid you think the hoops they make you jump through are.

It is inevitable that at some point during your school year, as a group leader, you will have to interact with these people, be it in person or over email. Below are a few tips to keep in mind while doing so, to make your life easier and to make the people who grant you permission, happier.

1. Know how your university works. For example, at my school, you need several forms filled out and signed by officers for fundraising, to spend money, to hold an event, to travel somewhere, or to breath (practically). While it can get annoying, I’ve made myself knowledgeable about each and every form so whenever I need to do something, I know where to start.

2. They’re busy too. While it can be incredibly annoying to have to run around getting a bazillion different forms signed in between classes and a job, keep in mind that whatever university officials you’re dealing with manage this process everyday- with hundreds of students orgs. It’s stressful for EVERYONE.

3. Kiss up. Hello! Being the teachers pet works. Each university handles things differently– maybe you’re lucky enough to only need a single signature, or maybe your every move is monitored. Either way, try to kiss a little you-know-what. Do they need to find a certain phone number, or get a form faxed over to your speaker? Offer to do it for them. By going above and beyond during the legwork of your event, or even just being willing to do so, your group will be remembered as incredibly helpful, which will benefit you at some point- I guarantee it.

4. Give everyone enough time. As soon as you know details, fill out whatever paperwork you need to. Don’t wait! Give any university office plenty of time to process things. Not only will this cut down on stress levels for everyone, but they’ll be grateful, meaning next time, when you DO wait until the last minute (on accident, of course) they’ll be more willing to cut you some slack.

Every school is different, which means only you know what works best for your group during the beginning processes of an event, but by being responsible and doing things the right way no matter what those things are, you’re likely to build bridges, and not burn them.

Opinion

Keeping your group from fading away with the summer sun

We’ve passed the halfway point of summer. Class schedules are arranged, textbooks are ordered, summer internships are wrapping up and students ware savoring the last weeks of vacation. The end is near. While this news may be good or bad, now is a crucial time to establish some building blocks for your campus group to work off of come fall. Below are a few important tips to keep in mind as you start packing your backpack:

1) Gonna be busy this fall? So is everyone else. Now is the perfect time to start pre-planning some events. Maybe you have a routine social event at the start of every school year, or you know you want to bring in a big speaker this semester. No matter your situation, book a room, start brainstorming fundraiser ideas and work on making community contacts NOW. Why wait?

2) What happened to your social media presence? I get it, updating your group’s Facebook page isn’t the first priority on your summer bucket list. It’s time to remind your fans and followers that you exist! Ease into your normal updating schedule by previewing a fun event or asking for community input. Don’t forget to engage your audience. Don’t just inform them, interact with them! Make a social media contest- once you reach a certain number of fans, 1 will be picked at random to win a t-shirt, or have followers guess who your big speaker will be by posting clues on Twitter- winner gets a copy of the speaker’s most popular book! These sorts of fun activities are easy to implement, and create a loyal following.

3) Start building your binders early. One of the best pieces of advice I hear at CFI’s Leadership Conference this summer was to create binders with all the group information, contact info, passwords and documents you could possibly ever need to make passing the torch easy as pie. Start making yours now! You’re starting to plan events, so include who you need to get approval from and what needs to be done in a step by step guide. Got a great fundraiser idea? Write it in the binder! The more information you include in these, the easier it will be for new officers and executive boards to continue your group’s great work for years to come.

These are just some basic things to keep in mind as cool weather approaches. Got problems, or questions, about managing your campus group? I wanna hear about them! Email me at jessicaswider35@gmail.com.